Friday, August 9, 2013

225. RASHOMON (1950)

Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Written By: Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, from the stories Rashomon and In a Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Main Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki
Click here to view the trailer


Moving right along and getting two reviews in within the span of twenty-four hours, we come to one of the heavy hitters in THE BOOK, speaking not only of the title, but also the man sitting in the director's chair. Of course, I'm talking about "Rashomon" and the iconic Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa.

The film is actually pretty short and the plot is really simple, so summing up the events shouldn't be that much of a task. At the core of the story, we have a three characters: a bandit (Mifune), a samurai (Mori) and the wife of the samurai (Kyo). One day, while the samurai and his wife are traveling through a patch of forest, the bandit, also happening to be in this same patch of forest, takes notice of the wife and covets her for himself. One thing leads to another and the bandit rapes the wife while the samurai is tied up and afterwards, the samurai is killed. The entire story is told through the use of double flashback, as we're not only hearing the story of the rape/murder as it as told at the trial, we're also hearing an account of the trial, as told by a woodcutter (an eyewitness to the events in question) and a priest, as they recall the events of the trial and what happened in the forest to a passerby, as they keep dry while a heavy rainstorm pours over their heads. During the course of the film, we hear four different versions of what happened to the samurai, as told by the bandit, the wife, the dead samurai (through the use of a medium) and the woodcutter.


Yeah, I'd say that about covers the events of the film. Let's see, where to begin, where to begin...

I'd seen Kurosawa's "Rashomon" once before, during a time when I was swallowing up films left and right, trying my best to expand my cinematic knowledge. Back then, I remember really disliking the film, although I couldn't remember why, even as I headed into this second viewing. This time I was optimistic - my tastes HAD changed considerably since the first viewing and my watching of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" has proved on numerous occasions to change my mind about films I previously hated. Therefore, I wasn't (nor am I ever) too concerned about disliking it again. If I did, I did and if I didn't, well that'd be even better. Well, while I didn't dislike the film, I can't say I understand why people go so crazy for it. Let's just jump right into it, shall we?

The big thing I don't get is this: Why should we not believe the woodcutter? I've done a little homework and the basic premise of the film seems to be that everyone spins the story in their favor, but I'm not getting how the woodcutter's story is spun in his favor. Sure, he omits the part about the pearl dagger, but I think it's pretty clear that the bandit killed the samurai, no question. And that's the part that really matters! So what if the woodcutter stole the wife's dagger, he at least has to be telling the truth about who killed the samurai, right? I think it would've been much better if we were left still unsure about who killed the samurai, whether it was his wife, the bandit, himself or even a fourth person. In my opinion, there's no question as to how the samurai was killed (by the bandit) and by making the home base Rashomon and the storyteller the woodcutter, there's no reason why we shouldn't believe the woodcutter and for the most part, his version of the events.

Hey, I like the "differing viewpoints of the same story" plot device as much as the next guy, but is it possible that since this is the first notable example of that device that it just wasn't as polished as other examples, which would come later? I think that's a fair statement. The film isn't bad by any means, it's just that I think there could've been a few easy steps taken to leave the audience yearning to know who killed the samurai and why and a few other details. As it is, I feel that Kurosawa failed to really leave the audience wanting answers and was more concerned with simply leaving them with an epic film, filled with beautiful photography and symbolic structure. I'll say this too, I didn't like the ending. All the stuff with the baby and the final conversation between the woodcutter and the priest, I just didn't care for it. For me, it just bogged everything down and hung around just a little too long. However, speaking of the baby stuff and the woodcutter who offers to adopt the abandoned child, it is here where we can come to forgive the woodcutter for stealing the dagger, realizing that he needs to sell it to earn money for his large family. No one else was around to claim it and it's rightful claimant was now deceased, so why shouldn't he take it. Yes, the more I think of it, the more I really wish Kurosawa had either left the woodcutter's story out or altered it to be more ambiguous. Unless I'm totally missing the point, this would've made the film far better, mysterious and engaging.

RATING: 6.5/10  I could see this growing on me, to tell you the truth. Everything above is really just a lot of nitpicking and really maybe I'm just upset with myself for not liking "Rashomon" more. If you're checking this out for the first time, may take a few viewings before you can really accept and appreciate it.


Open Your Eyes (1997 - Alejandro Amenabar)
The Sweet Hereafter (1997 - Atom Egoyan)
The Butcher Boy (1997 - Neil Jordan)
Princess Mononoke (1997 - Hayao Miyazaki)
Happy Together (1997 - Wong Kar-wai)

August 9, 2013  1:50am


  1. Well.. you know, I had great hopes for this one.. and i struggled a bit on first watch and came away dis-satisfied.. But I gave it another go a couple of years later (perhaps a bit more at home with Japanese cinema) and got a lot more out of it.. so please, do give it another try in a year or two.

    In the meantime.. Do try and check out the predictable American remake. No, seriously, it's not that bad... it's well worth it, if only for the cast.
    Edward G Robinson as a con-man is the 'observer' and steals the entire movie, Paul Newman looking decidedly uneasy in a fake 'Bandito' mustache failing to give a convincing Mexican accent as, what today, may almost be thought of as a semi racist stereotype Bandit, ..... and wait for it....
    William Shatner as a preacher. Stop laughing.
    No, seriously he's not that bad. Actually, I may retract some of the negativity about Newman's performance.. perhaps it was good, as you have to keep checking it IS him, as he is not all that recognisable.
    Sorry, I have strayed off topic here.. we are supposed to be talking about the film in question..

    1. Yes, a rewatch is definitely in the cards for me and Rashomon. Now, I've looked up this movie and honestly, as I watched this last night, I wondered if it had ever been remade. "The Outrage" does seem a little odd, especially as far as cast choices go, but definitely seems like it may be worth a look. I think a modern day remake, if in the right hands, could be successful too. Below, Lowes49 mentions Christopher Nolan remaking this film, which I believe COULD work.

  2. Hey Andrew

    So happy that we finally made it to Kurosawa, one of my personal favorite directors. Rashomon, isn't in my opinion his greatest, that honor would go to Throne of Blood, but it like all of his films it takes some getting used to.

    However, I regard this film as a masterpiece still, because of it's multi plot elements, which revolutionized not only film but television as well. (see complete list here

    Things like Memento (which by the way a Nolan remake of this film would be so awesome) probably wouldn't exist without Rashomon first.

    Your criticisms of the film are totally valid, especially the part about Kurosawa having more interest in scope and symbolism, unfortunately that doesn't really go away, but fortunately most of his films are less plot than this one. And I totally agree that the film works better if we don't know who the killer is at the end, and to do that the woodcutter needs to be more ambiguous.

    Anyways, keep up the great work, and I especially look forward to your viewing of Throne of Blood.

    1. Not sure if I'll make "Throne of Blood" this season or not. I will, however, be watching "Ikiru" probably by months end, so we'll see how that goes. I've also seen that one before and remember liking it well enough.

      Glad to hear a Rashomon/Kurosawa fan somewhat agrees with me on my observations. I thought there was a good chance something was going way over my head and that I'd wake up to a few people bashing me for my opinions. Thanks as always for the comment.

  3. Rashomon is a great movie, but probably not even in my top five Kurosawa films. I remember thinking it was decent, but not great the first time I saw it. I've since seen it a few more times, and it does get better with each viewing.

    I would rate it as an 8.5 out of 10.

    My top 5 Kurosawa movies:

    1. Seven Samurai (which might be my favorite movie of all time)
    2. Yojimbo (somehow not in the BOOK)
    3. Throne Of Blood
    4. Ran
    5. The Hidden Fortress

    1. Yeah, I could see myself warming to it on multiple viewings. I intend to watch Seven Samurai soon, though I have seen it once before and while I don't remember disliking it, I don't remember liking it either. Thanks for the list!


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